Interviews

Where is the human in all of this? — Eden Pearlstein and Jon Madof present their new project, Ruthless Cosmopolitans

The world is having an episode.
There will be no new normal.
This is it.
Now what?

With this question in mind, underground rapper, poet and performance artist Eden Pearlstein (aka ePRHYME of Darshan) and guitarist, producer and Chant Records co-owner Jon Madof (Zion 80, Rashanim) introduce the New York scene to their new project, Ruthless Cosmopolitans.

A self-described “cathartic/parodic/prophetic response to the spiraling state of our nation and the world,” Ruthless Cosmopolitans originated as a visceral response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, VA which resulted in the death of Heather Hyer. “Watching that, something just popped,” Eden explained to me during our conversation two weeks ago. What followed was a cathartic outpouring of anger, sadness and resentment that took shape as the band’s flagship song, “Make America Hate Again.”

Immediately after writing the lyrics, Eden called Jon, presenting his idea for the Ruthless Cosmopolitans project. The two went on to enlist bassist Yoshie Fruchter (Sandcatchers, Pitom) and drummer Manny Laine (Wyclef Jean, Kanye West) alongside a number of guest artists including vocalist Elana Brody, several members of Zion 80 and Abbey Luck of Prone Studio, who directed the video for the band’s first single, “The Screen Age.”

In this in-depth interview I talked to Eden and Jon about their collaboration, their uniquely intense creative process, the role of social media in the present-day disruption of discourse and the events that inspired Ruthless, the band’s six-song EP.

Eden, the idea for this project originated with you. Please walk me through the events leading up to the moment you decided to write this music.

Eden: I guess I’ll start by saying I didn’t decide to write the music. (laughs) I think a better way to say it is that the music decided it would write itself through me.

Leading up to it is definitely related to the 2016 election and that whole process. The dynamics we saw amplified during that election and over the last four years have certainly been present and percolating and developing in my mind. I think there is interesting work being done on mapping the rolling out of various social media platforms, practices and structures, means of discourse or disruptions of discourse.

Around the 2016 election, I started to get sucked into those platforms a bit more than normal. I’m not so drawn to comment or be active on social media, but it grabbed my attention in a different way than it had previously. It was like watching a car accident or a series of them over and over and seeing people freaking out, just feeling the volume and tenor and energy of the collective mind starting to fritz out more and more and feeling this yawning gap that was already there but got amplified so much.

Then, with the Unite the Right white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and the events of that day, with the car running into the crowd and killing Heather Hyer and the way that was handled in the press by the president… watching that, something just popped. Seeing all these signs and hearing these chants — “They will not replace us!” It’s this recycling of these really charged phrasings and slogans that harken back to different kinds of strange periods and ideologies in history mixed together in a nonsensical way that signals to a bunch of contradictory groups.

“Make America Hate Again” was the first song that came through. If you look at the lyrics — “Blood and soil/Bombs and oil/Blacks and Jews Control fake news/Muslims, gays/No one’s safe/Build the wall/They’re coming for us all” — I was just in this position of asking myself, “What the fuck is being said right now? Let me just get this straight. This is it, right?” Just trying to boil it down and essentialize it. On some level, even just for myself, to realize, “Wait, this is the constellation of issues and the bludgeoning blunt way they’re being delivered.” Like, BANG — “They will not replace us!”

So that popped out and it was different from the kinds of lyric-writing and music that I’ve been making previously. It definitely returned me to a different kind of aesthetic that I had been more musically active with when I lived in Olympia, Washington. It was less spiritual and mystical than the music I’d been making for the past ten years.

I called Jon pretty much that day and was like, “Yo, I just wrote something trippy. I feel like there’s more coming and it’s this new direction. These are some of my thoughts about it and this is where it’s coming from. I would love to collaborate. You popped into my head and I thought this would be an awesome collaboration.”

What made you think of Jon?

Eden: Me and Jon had worked together in various ways around the New York scene — both the Jewish music scene as well as the Downtown Scene. I had done some guests spots with him. We know a lot of the same people and I had started working with a bunch of other musicians from Jon’s circle, surrounding Tzadik Records and John Zorn. I figured this was an opportunity for me and Jon to work together, which was an interest of mine for a while, and felt like the kinds of threads and influences that I was hearing and feeling were perfectly suited to a lot of his tastes and skills and energy.

Jon, what did you think when Eden came to you with this?

Jon: We were definitely aware of each other and moving in similar circles. I had heard his music before but then Eden called me to do a video that was put on by this site called Hevria. He had different musicians working with him on different pieces. We really connected and clicked. In a few hours, I went to his house and we put something together. I felt like it made a lot of sense for us to be doing this and the song was really fun. Afterwards, I asked him to come sit in with Zion 80 and that was a blast. Also, in the first batch of albums that Chant Records put out was Raza by the band Darshan, which Eden is aligned with.

It’s interesting. Eden says that this was a return for him to what he was doing when he was in Washington State but for me it was also a return to what I had done growing up in Philly, playing in this punk rock band called Babyhead. The band’s name was Babyhead. It’s horrible! I’m really bad with band names and that was the worst. (laughs) And I think I came up with that.

It was a return to that — more like rock, punk, indie, something like that. I was glad Eden had picked up on that strain in my taste. I didn’t really know that I wanted to go back to that but, when he said it, I thought it would be amazing.  

Eden: I picked up on that. What I really liked was not just your Zion 80 stuff, but the Rashanim stuff. I was thinking, “Okay, he can go in this direction and that direction,” like deep groove, horns, dance and then thrash, noise, things like that.

Jon: Yeah, we did do that on Rashanim. And that horn dance thing is not absent from the Ruthless record. “Make America Hate Again” is all over that. But I see this coming more from a rock place in a way that connects to when I was listening to all of this music as a teenager. I loved getting back to that and informing it with everything I’ve done since then.

Eden, in your lyrics, you make use of repetition based on these slogans, creating a sort of anti-mantra. Tell me a bit about your creative process, your approach to this music and how it may have differed from what you’ve done before.

Eden: First off, I’ll just say that, in that way of how that first song came, I had the feeling that something just opened or I just walked through something. I was in the midst. I could see the eyes in the forest staring at me. (laughs) Basically, I wrote all the songs in a few weeks, if that. I think the next day I wrote “The Screen Age.” Maybe even that same day. It just started coming.

And I like that you’re picking up on what you’re calling the “anti-mantra” thing. We referred to the song for “The Screen Age” as reverse hypnosis. It’s examining, it’s mirroring, it’s reflecting, it’s morphing, it’s caricaturing, it’s confronting uses of language on deep levels — both semantic messaging as well as subsemantic. Part of that is the repetition. Say it enough times and it becomes a thing.

I think if you can set up that repetitive, bad, trance-inducing thing… It’s not a trance you want to be in, like you’re saying, but the idea is to sit with this, think into this. So the repetitive nature of that and then expanding out into these poetic panoramic thoughts is a way to bring the listener into a state and then to introduce the poetry or allow the poetry space to develop.

I really loved the subtle ways your voice was used — the enunciation, the articulation, the dynamics of it. Using these kinds of words and slogans in a repetitive way can be a slippery slope, because you’ve got to keep the listener engaged and mesmerized, to make them want to keep listening to all this crazy shit. You’ve done that perfectly. In a way, it’s like a study of how and why this kind of rhetoric is working. Do you think of the delivery consciously as you’re writing the lyrics?

Eden: You can’t separate the two. It’s not like a soul-and-body dichotomy. The meaning comes down in the math of the delivery and the cadence and the depth. That starts to enter in and then the words sometimes just fall into place. All those things came down both with the meaning and the delivery.

Now, me and Jon, we worked on those from the seed that I initially brought to him. Jon can talk more about this, but each of these songs went through three or four different versions and, some of them, different genres. I brought the lyrics and my ideas of some deliveries, some of which were so grooved in that they remained the same, some of which changed radically.

I didn’t overdetermine Jon’s contribution in any way. I’d bring it to him and he would sit with it and sometimes he would give me suggestions on the lyrical delivery. It wasn’t like it all came down and then I was like, “Jon I need you to do X, Y and Z.” It was like, “I’ve got this thing, this is weird, do you want to try to work with this?” It was a pretty drawn out process to get the right vehicle for these words.

Jon, what was it like on your side? Tell me a bit about the creative challenge of writing music around these lyrics and ideas.

Jon: Eden called me the night of or the day after that rally. We were talking about it. He said a lot of the stuff he’s saying now in terms of what the motivation was and I was like, “Okay, cool, so it’s a rap album.” And he was like, “No! It’s not a rap album!” (laughs) And I’m glad he drove that into my head, because I haven’t worked very extensively with vocalists in a very long time — really since that band that I had. So I think it was the first hurdle I needed to get over, of not thinking of this connected to genre.

Eden: That’s because I’ve been releasing rap albums for twenty years. (laughs)

Jon: He said, “It’s not rap as a genre but it’s also not really rap in the way the lyrics work. Think of it more like chants and mantras, like we’re parodying these people at this rally saying these chants that they’re getting all fired up for.” I don’t mean this with the connotations it normally has but almost this “primal” thing. In a great way, it’s like it’s not even music. It’s this pre-cognitive beat and we’re setting it to music and then Eden goes back and injects it with poetry.

In “Make America Hate Again” there’s this comet verse. Honestly, the person I thought of first when I got that wasn’t a hip-hop artist, it was Lou Reed. Because he has this delivery where he’s kind of singing but it’s almost like a talking blues, with this sometimes simplistic music happening. But the more you listen to it, the more you realize this is really sophisticated in its simplicity. It’s very deliberate. It’s very clear and it gets the message across.

It’s so cool because Eden starts off with those repetitive chants and slogans and then goes into this poem that’s very verbose and has these double and triple meanings. It’s this great contrast between those two things.

It was very helpful to kind of free myself. Like, I’m not responsible for making the music for some kind of live band hip-hop album. That’s not what this is. (laughs) So it allowed me to go to my influences. The thing I came back to was that I wanted to match that intention in the music. I didn’t want to overthink it, on one hand, but I didn’t want to rule out that there would be some things that would really be complex and layered.

At first, I thought the music is kind of punk rock. Lou Reed has that famous quote, “One chord is enough, two chords is too many and three chords… you’re already into jazz.” (laughs) Andrei, have you interviewed Aram Bajakian yet?

Not yet, but I’ve been keeping my eye on his work.

Jon: Awesome! He’s such a great guy. He was in Lou’s last band. Certainly his last touring band. I’ve talked to him several times about what that was like. Lou was always like, “Strip it down, strip it down, take out anything that’s unnecessary.” That’s the approach I took. You can let the complex shit in there but only when it’s absolutely necessary. The rule is, “If you can do it with two chords, don’t play three!” I love the freedom of that.

With Zion 80, the music was very complex, especially the last record I did of Zorn’s music. And that’s what it should be — I’m very happy with it. But it’s very complex, very detailed, very layered, very involved. This was just, “Kick on the distortion and play something, then we work from there.”

And just like I had my input with Eden on the lyrics, he had his input on the music. That helped me frame it. We would just pass demos back and forth. He came to my house, we’d do the lyrics and then he’d come back and we’d do them again. After two, three, sometimes four times through these demos, we’d have something to work with.

Eden: And we did that first show at The Stone and that ended up being the core unit we went with.

Jon: As far as musicians go, the first person we knew we wanted to work with was Manny Laine. And that was great because I had a week at The Stone and Manny played with us. Yoshie played bass — that was that core unit. When I heard Manny and Eden play together, I knew that, just organizationally, Eden’s at the top, Manny’s at the bottom in terms of the foundation and the rhythm of the music and lyrics. If I know that those two things are there, I can fill up the rest.

Eden: Manny’s somebody I’ve been playing with for a long time, probably over ten years. When I moved to New York, I started playing as a rapper with many really good musicians. But man, finding live drummers that get hip-hop…

And Manny obviously does more than get hip-hop. He tours with Wyclef and plays with Kanye West and huge acts. He’s just so in it, and he’s brilliant. He can play all these other genres so intuitively and masterfully. When me and Jon were talking about people, on all these other levels, I said, “I trust you, Jon. I have people I like, we can talk about it, but I need Manny in here. Manny’s going to make sure that this doesn’t flop. Because if we do this without the right drummer, it’s going to sound whack.”

Me and Manny came in as the rhymes and beats dudes, but we had a deep working relationship. We had played together for many years, but we also hadn’t played together for a long time, so reconnecting with Manny for this project was a very big deal for me.

As Jon can see, we’re very close, so it was a very meaningful thing. In the same way that Jon brings his expertise in various musical dimensions, Manny brought his. A lot of it is pairing those different palettes together in a way that we would be able to pull off the very strange thing we wanted to do.

Ruthless has a lot of guest musicians. Many of them are also members of Zion 80. How did you decide on the other musicians you wanted to bring in?

Jon: A lot of the demos, like Eden said, went through many different iterations. I would just try an organ part or a little piano part and, after so many years of working with Brian Marsella in Zion 80, I’m not writing a keyboard part, I’m writing a Brian Marsella part. I hear a groove and I can just hear in my head Brian freaking out over this and how great that’s going to sound.

I mean, Zion 80 started with Greg Wall and Frank London, them together as a unit, from being in Hasidic New Wave. They do crazy things together — they’re telepathic. That, to me, is the core of my idealized horn section. Whether it’s just them, like they were here and they overdub, or in Zion 80 with Jessica and Zach. Obviously, I love Jessica and Zack but Frank and Greg were the core and then we expanded on that.

Eden: Also, just to loop back into something I was saying earlier, those were all people that I had played with actually before Jon. Brian is on Raza, the Darshan album. With Greg I did a year-long residency at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue where he was the rabbi for a while and he was playing with Darshan. And Frank was probably the first musician I played with when I got in New York. At City Winery.

Jon: I didn’t even know that! That’s awesome!

Eden: Those were all people we shared in common. It was more like me and Jon were the new element. And we both love what those people do. I think we were both composing with those kinds of sounds in mind.

Jon: Right! You could probably hear in your head what Manny was going to do with something when you get a demo from me. I wasn’t as familiar with his personality.

And that’s one thing with all these people — just going back to different influences and switching genres on a dime. Many people have done it but, to me, the epitome of that is John Zorn. In something like Naked City, you have Joey Baron, who will switch from country to speed metal to jazz, but it’s always Joey. There are studio musicians who could probably do that just as well or —God forbid, dare I say, maybe even better — but you wouldn’t hear their personality in every section.

When I hear Manny switch from a fast punk rock backbeat to a hip-hop thing to a straight rock thing, I always hear him. That’s pretty rare. As a guitar player, I do it, but I’m not somebody who can master that. I know my personality always comes through but if you want a fast bebop solo, I’m not your guy. Manny’s one of these people that have the virtuosity and the personality and that’s the amazing thing. That’s what holds it together. We built on that. And I don’t want to go without giving a shout-out to the other musicians.

Marlon Sobol I worked with in Zion 80 and some other projects over the years. I know where he’s coming from, musically. He played in different reggae bands for a long time and certainly Afro-Cuban music, but also hip-hop. So I thought he’s perfect. If we need congas or any kind of percussion, he’s the guy.

Eden likewise said of Elana. I knew her from Eden and Basya Schechter, so I knew that she was a great singer. Eden was like, “She’s got to do this!” He said it with the same confidence with which he said that Manny should be the drummer. I asked who else and he said, “Just her! She can overdub. She’s incredible!” Going back to the personality thing, she not only killed it but she was like, “Keep it rolling, I have another idea! If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it.”

Eden: Which is exactly what I said she would do. (laughs) We’ll give her a little bit of instruction and a lot of space and we let her go.

Jon: Greg and Frank and all these people are the same. You tell them what to do and they kill it and then they have another idea. They become invested. I remember, on the second or third Zion 80 record, we were supposed to go to 8PM and it was midnight. I said, “Okay, this is it! Just do this one last overdub.” Then we were done. I’m literally walking out of the studio and Frank goes, “Hold on, I have an idea!” And he made the rest of the horn section stay there. That’s how dedicated these people are.

We didn’t ask Elana to do that, but she comes in and she’s dedicated to the music. And I think the beginning of “Make America Hate Again,” that’s what she came up with. It was so awesome that we just put it at the beginning of the song. Just her — overdub. Her vocal section singing that and then we’ll start the song after that. It’s so exciting working with people like that because they just have great ideas and they go for it.

I really loved the whole spectrum of sound. There’s this really cool thing of having it be raw and confrontational at one point and then going into a horn section that can reach certain emotions. Some of this things are really sublime. You have these really discrepant emotions that I think add another layer to the music.

Eden: Just to underscore that: aesthetically, that was a very conscious tactic. These strange juxtapositions.

We were laughing in the studio when Elana came up with that line, that innocent “Maaake Americaaa…” We’re like, “Dude, this is like a fucking zombie girl scout anthem!” (laughs) You could see it in a United Way commercial or something, singing this fucked up shit. That was an aesthetic approach that was very present as a frame to pair different things. That was a lot of what we were going for in this strange cut-up technique. Because then, there’s something bigger being said than any one of the individual elements.

And you can’t just deal with the semantic meaning of the lyrics, you have to consider their embeddedness within a certain musical vessel that they’re being supported and carried by. Those things aren’t separate and they are, in fact, meant to bring out things. The juxtaposition of those different and sometimes disparate elements is meant to dimensionalize what’s being said, to shift what’s being said to a different light and just allow more to be expressed. The whole thing becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I’m a hip-hop artist and a rapper, but I’m thinking back to early DJ stuff, where they were trying to find a break in anything. There wasn’t actually “hip-hop” music when hip-hop started. Hip-hop was a certain way to interact with any single genre of music, anything could be looped into a mix. If you hit it right and it gelled, it could be totally different and way outside of the cultural parameter or the framework. But if you find the break, then it’s fucking dope! I have that kind of sample-based sensibility.

In my reviews, I call this the “narrative dynamic” of a particular work.

Eden: We thought about that stuff very consciously in a narrative context.      

Jon: The yacht rock thing is the end of “Faux King Crazy,” right?

Eden: Where we go into this weird repetitive thing and the free jazz and then we’re like, “What is the whackest thing we could possibly do?”

Jon: And I was like, “Two words: Steely Dan.” (laughs)

But it’s great because I thought of it in this really cheesy way, which is what we were trying to do. But then Brian came in and he took it to another level of almost parody, because what he played to me was straight Bernie Worrell. Which is great because it’s kind of cheesy and horrible, but it’s also amazing, like a P-Funk thing. I actually love Steely Dan, I will say in full disclosure. But P-Funk is on another level, because there’s something deeper about it.

Just to go back to what we were saying about the musicians, I will say that the other kind of artistic force that was working with us was James Dellatacoma, who engineered and co-produced this and who I’ve been working with for almost twenty years. I walk in and he knows not only what I want my guitar to sound like and what my musical tastes are but he knows what I want the snare drum to sound like. He knows the kind of rawness and the kind of palette. But he also has a lot of experience working with vocalists, so that was really super helpful with Eden.

It was like, “I want another character here, what can we do?”

“Okay, we have EQ, we have effects, we have these little…”

Eden: Toys! We were recording and we had these toy megaphones and different whirly things.

Speaking of narrative, there was also a characterological thing, because different lyrics were coming from different voices. In poetic parlance, this was not a “lyrical I” expression album — how I’m feeling about a lot of things. Maybe “Faux King Crazy” on some level goes in that direction, but a lot of it was mirroring, caricaturing these different voices in society at a particular moment.

We wanted to reflect that through the sound of the different voices. So James got really involved for the production to be like, “Make this sound like a mob!” Or, “How do we go about making this sound this kind of way? I’m going to stand ten feet back and scream.”

To use the kind of writerly paradigm that you’re talking about: we were talking about narrative development, we definitely thought a lot about character development. That was really interesting and a great experience for me because, as a writer and as a performer, a lot of my stuff comes from expressing my thoughts and my experience and my ideas. So I’m crafting my “character.” Whereas this became a bit more dramatic with more characters at play.

A big focal point in presenting this project has been the video component, especially Abbey Luck’s video for “The Screen Age.” Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Eden: Abbey is a phenomenal director and animator. I had worked with her on a psychedelic Hebrew alphabet music video that we got commissioned to do six years ago. It wasn’t pitched as a psychedelic Hebrew alphabet. (laughs) Somebody got a grant and they’re like, “We want an updated musical way to teach the Hebrew alphabet.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do it, but I’m going to do it my way and you can either take it or leave it.” (laughs) They agreed.

So me and my buddy and collaborator Shir Yaacov worked on the music and then we got linked up with this director, Brian Savelson, who is super talented and very accomplished. When me and him met, we both, kind of in that cheesy way, at the same time said, “This should be an animation!” And he brought on this animator, Abbey Luck.

When we decided we wanted to do an animated video for this we thought to reach out to Abbey. First, I reached out to Brian and he put me in touch with Abbey. He was too busy to be involved but she agreed to take on the project and direct it. What I didn’t know was that she has educational background in both Animation and Art and Engineering and Technology. I didn’t know that when we brought her in to do “The Screen Age.” It was just serendipitous because it’s like, “What better background do you want for an examination of the inner mechanics of this thing?”

We posted the video and got some strange comments like, “What is the relevant point being made here?” This isn’t pedantic. I am a human individual and this is my response. The primal scream at the end is my response to being barraged and inundated with the avalanche of digital media and all the voices and agendas vying for our attention both for their own purposes and power as well as for advertising dollars and all this shit. So, “What is the relevant point?” This is an expression of what it feels like to be a human being in this particular moment dealing with this phenomenon. I’m not saying to smash your phone. We made it for your phone! (laughs)

So much of the critical discourse of industrialization and agriculture and all of this stuff is “Where is the human in this?” Okay, industrialization happened, but what’s the impact on humans and their experience of these transitions and these new technologies. For that, often times, you have to look to the arts. Because that’s what the arts are inevitably going to be reflecting on, consciously or not.

This is going on in the world and impacting the fabric of society and economy and relationships and ideas of being an individual or part of the collective. All these things are impacted by these technologies and systems of production and exchange in which we’re embedded. So you have to look to the arts to ask, “Where is the human in these historical processes?” Some people read “The Screen Age” as being for this or for that. No! It’s for the human voice being expressed within a historical moment.

“Head Spin Cycle/Tale Spin Doctor/Leave this body!” That’s what I feel like! “Get the fuck out you demon entities who are trying to body-snatch me and inhabit me! Get out! I’m doing a clearing. I’m doing an exorcism. Yeah, I’m going to check the fucking news in 15 minutes but I need a moment here and I am forcefully and verbally and magically expelling you from my magic circle of consciousness for a moment.” You know?

I love that the energy you’ve conjured up for this explanation perfectly translates to the song.

Eden: Yeah, it’s not programmatic. This is not a fucking platform. One of the things I wanted to say about the mechanics of what makes this mantra-thing work is subtle permutations. You’re saying the same thing over and over again, but you tweak a little thing. Those are very carefully crafted. But at the end it’s like, “Leave me the fuck alone!” I’m done with the fucking magical formulae. Yes, I’m employing this thing here but also, “Where is the human in the magical formula? Where is the human in the ritual?” That’s the whole underlying urgency of the expression, at least for me.

I think Jon and all of the musicians, all of us together, translated that musically. “Where is the human in all of this? Where is the human heart?” I’m not going to write another headline. I’m not going to write another fucking article critiquing this. This is my response to being bombarded with all those things.

Jon: Something I always think about, going back to a lot of conversations I’ve had with Zorn, is that the best tool for creating something great is limitation. Some sort of focus, so that the energy and the narrative and the story is there. And the way Eden writes, especially in this project, is so visceral, it’s so obvious. I don’t know the exact guitar line that’s going to work for that, but when I hit it, I’ll know.

Eden is the lead actor in the center of the stage and I’m thinking, “What does the lighting look like? Is he inside or outside? Are there trees? Is he on a driveway? Is he in a forest?” You think about what serves the narrative in the best way. The story itself is three-dimensional. It’s alive. That’s one of the things that was so engaging to me about this project, the fact that I’m responsible not just for creating the whole thing from the ground up but creating a setting for this story.  

What do you have in mind for the future? Is this going to be a one-off EP or are you planning to continue the project?

Jon: We definitely want to keep going.

Eden: Yeah, we have another idea for another EP. We’ve been talking about doing an EP of cover songs, continuing the weird, political, apolitical kind of parody-thing. It may be titled something like It’s A Cover-Up.

Musically, the idea is to take songs that are delivered in a certain way and you identify them as such. Kind of like iconic songs that sometimes can be soft. But poetically, if you hear the words, you realize there’s real pathos there. There’s a real edge. There’s maybe even paranoia. There are some much sharper teeth in this smile that are hidden in the back of the mouth. What we want to do is open the mouth and sharpen those teeth and take songs that are delivered in one way but that we poetically listen to in another way. If we change the sonic bed that they’re planted in, you will hear them and they will almost be new songs.

This makes me think of Tom Waits doing that cover of “Somewhere,” the West Side Story song, and how it completely changed the energy of that song.

Eden: Exactly! That’s what we’re looking for. We have a list of ten songs that we want to look at. We’ll collect more and record maybe five or six. That feels, musically and creatively, like a continuation of what we have been doing and it gets us out of the purely reactionary, in the moment, almost Twitter poetics that defined this first batch of material. Although, that’s what it was. But I do think it would be good to explore different timeframes through revisiting previous cultural artifacts.

What do you wish the audience would take away from this music?

Jon: It goes back to what Eden said about the music deciding to write itself. My opinion is that, as artists, our job is to channel that in the best way we can and put it out in the world. I care very much that my music has an audience. I want it to find an audience. I want it to find the right people. I spend a lot of time doing that for my own work and for the label, as much as I can. If it speaks to somebody, I want it to find them. But I have no expectation of what they will take away from it. It’s like a resonance. I want to put the signal out there and find the people it resonates with.

Eden: I think along those lines. It’s not programmatic. It’s not pedantic. A lot of it really did have to do with finding ourselves within the midst of this overwhelming historical moment. That’s not the only thing to do, obviously, but that’s one thing that artists can do: go deep into that human experience and craft it and share it in a way where other people having their own experience within a historical moment will go, “Oh, fuck! I feel like that when I spend too long scrolling online. I want to fucking scream and do an exorcism!”

If you listen, if you really go into the lyrics, none of these things are one-sided. There’s a lot of subtlety and different threads being pulled out and juxtaposed. My hope is that people can connect through their own experience to our sharing of our own experience. We’re not starting a fucking political party.

Jon: If we did, we might be able to make some money. (laughs)

Eden: We’re sharing our experience and acting as antennae and mirrors for society and for individuals. On some level, there’s a documentary aspect of the work too. I want this to be fucking noted in the Akashic records. If technology exists for however long and people are going back and looking at what it was like to exist during this time, we put our fucking comment card in the motherfucking box. And this was it!

Ruthless is available to stream or download on all major platforms. Check it out on the official Ruthless Cosmopolitans website.

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